Idol Chatter

No, I can’t help myself: This is my third blog posting about HBO’s “Big Love,” which aired its seventh episode last night. In “For the Wives, “Big Love” Falls Short on Love & Respect” and “HBO’s “Big Love”–And Why I’m Longing for TV’s Next Buffy,” I’ve critiqued the show for its disturbing… support? appreciation?… of polygamy, a marital and familial system that subordinates women no matter how gorgeous, gregarious, and self-righteous they are.

My reason for yet another post? A thoughtful analysis of all the things that make me simmer by Slate writer William Saletan entitled: “Big or Me: What Big Love teaches about marriage and jealousy.” Saletan concludes (like me), that this “on-air experiment” in which “talented writers and actors are trying to make plausible the idea that American women raised in an age of sexual egalitarianism are bighearted enough to share a husband” is simply not working.

Saletan explains:

“Big Love” tries to get beyond this model [of hierarchy between wives], but escaping hierarchy proves impossible. Unless you marry all your wives in one ceremony, they’re in chronological order. Sexually, the most powerful wife is the last one, since she’s young enough to have kids (which is a big reason why she married you), whereas your previous wives, like you, have aged. But the first wife, like the first-born son, carries the authority. Some of this primacy is caused by monogamy laws: Only the first wife can be legal. But most of it is forced by everyday logistics.

But hierarchy isn’t the only source of tension, notes Saletan. There are the problems of jealousy (both sexual and in terms of time spent with each partner), spontaneity (which is difficult to have when everything is so scheduled), and pettiness–the daily arguments about little things that mask a larger unhappiness felt by the entire family.

Most observant of all his points, Saletan writes of the “hollow pretense of bigheartedness” by the show overall–that somehow Bill has enough love to go around for his three wives, and if he falls short, they can support each other–a la Leah, Rebecca, Zilpah, and Bilhah of “The Red Tent” fame (and Genesis of course). Saletan concludes his article with an example of Barb (wife #1) as she tries–unsuccessfully–to put a positive spin on the haunting sadness that sits within them all:

And what has polygamy given [Barb] to make up for what it took away? She gropes for an answer but can’t find one. Plural marriage requires sacrifice, she tells Margie, fumbling for words and looking away as she fights back tears. “We have to stick with it, no matter how lonely it can be, because there isn’t anything else that can bring us these rewards. This is, um, this is it.” Yes, it is. How sad.


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